2005-12-17

Mud that sticks - the coming Republican crisis

If the US Republican Party was listed on the stock exchange, I'd be urging people to sell, sell, sell.

But why? After all, the GOP is pretty much at the height of its power. It has control over the Senate, the House and the Oval Office, and it has successfully nominated judges to Federal courts (including SCOTUS) who are sympathetic to the conservative cause.

But this is actually the best time to sell stocks - when the price is high and you know that it is going down. And that is essentially what is going to happen to the Republican party - they are going down.

I realise that last statement may come across as mere partisan hyperbole, however I think there are some very good reasons why the Republicans will be facing a political crisis over the next decade.

In the world of politics, "mud slinging" - the process of smearing your opponent and hoping that voters may react negatively against him or her - is now an artform. Slinging mud at your opponent is actually quite easy - the difficult bit is being able to make it stick without voters realising how vicious you are.

Some politicians are stupid enough to do things that come back to haunt them later. Ted Kennedy's 1969 car accident in Chappaquiddick killed both his passenger (Mary Jo Kopechne) and any chance the third Kennedy ever had of becoming president. Other politicians have suffered under revelations of corruption, sexual misadventures and any number of stupid acts that get revealed just at the wrong moment and destroy their career.

But it is truly an artform when politicians are successfully demeaned in the eyes of the voters for something they are actually not guilty of. In 1988, Michael Dukakis' presidential campaign was fatally wounded when he was accused of being "soft on crime" despite the facts not matching the mud. In a similar vein, John Kerry's stature as a former soldier who served in Vietnam was questioned most successfully by the "Swift Vets". The allegations may not have been true, but the doubt they raised amongst voters was vital in Kerry's electoral loss.

The problem for the Republican party now is that various revelations in the past 12-18 months about their conduct in leading the country are so serious that the party's medium-term future (5-10 years) is now under serious threat. The Democrats will naturally jump on these revelations and sling the mud at them accordingly. The problem for the GOP is that this sort of mud will stick like glue.

Take the recent revelation that George Bush ordered the NSA to illegally undertake surveillance on American citizens. It took me, an Australian, a while to understand the ramifications of such an activity - but it appears as though some see it as another reason to impeach the President.

The problem that Democrats have faced over the years has been the impression that they have expanded the size and influence of government to the point where people's individual liberties are threatened. The events at Ruby Ridge and Waco convinced many American libertarians that the Federal government was actually a monster they needed to fight against. Since both events occurred while the Democrats controlled congress and, eventually, the White House, it was the Democrats who bore the brunt of this attitude. Indeed, during the 2001 Anthrax scare - an attack that was instigated by someone in the US who saw 9/11 as a precursor to some Federal government plot - two US senators, both Democrats, were targeted.

These anti-government libertarians were not necessarily Republicans. The chances are, though, that they voted for the GOP simply because they saw it as the lesser of two evils. Now, however, the report has come out that seems to prove quite easily that George W. Bush - a most conservative Republican - was involved in an increase in domestic spying that could easily be deemed as illegal. While the Democrats suffered under the impression that they were violating people's civil liberties, the Republicans can now be linked to a specific activity that would horrify libertarians.

We need to remember that these anti-government libertarians do not represent a majority of voters. Nevertheless, they do have the power to influence many on the right-hand side of politics. While it would be absurd to assume that conservatives will now vote for the Democrats, it is simply more likely that many conservatives will simply not vote for the GOP at the next election - so disappointed will they be in the actions of George W. Bush.

And it is this sort of mud that will stick. The Republicans have tried very hard to align themselves with the broad conservative movement in the US, but the fact that the Republican controlled Federal Government has begun spying on its own citizens will be seen as an act of betrayal by many conservatives. No matter how many times the GOP disavows itself of spying in the future, the fact is that the mud is there and it will stick.

Another problem that the GOP faces is the fact that it has been unable to rein in public spending. Many conservatives who believe in small government also believe in fiscal responsibility - but the current Republican controlled Federal government is running large budget deficits and is increasing spending.

Now as a lefty, I'm all for increases in taxation and increases in the size of government - enough to ensure a wonderful welfare system and universal health care and so on. But I also want fiscal responsibility - enough tax revenue to pay for this increase in government spending.

But what is happening now in Washington pleases neither fiscal conservatives nor big-government lefties. Large tax cuts for the rich (under the misguided notion that Supply side economics actually works) do not displease the fiscal conservative, but the ever increasing budget deficit will. Fiscal conservatives are getting quite concerned about the ever-larger federal deficits and would obviously want cuts in public spending to balance it all out. Unfortunately, the spending cuts that have been put in place have been outweighed by spending increases in other areas, and the deficit remains.

Faced with this situation, what are fiscal conservatives to do? The party they voted for is no longer acting in the way that it should. Moreover, there is in the back of their minds the fact that America under Clinton - a Democrat - was far more fiscally prudent. This does not mean that these people will suddenly vote for the Democrats, but it does mean that they are unlikely to continue their support for the Republicans.

The issue for the GOP is that it has broken its promises. It courted the Libertarian vote but has acted against their values. It courted the fiscally conservative vote, but has spent its way out of their electoral support. The Democrats would be stupid not to highlight this.

At the same time, I do not have to remind you of the damage that secret renditions and allegations of torture will do to the GOP as well.

I suspect that the coming house elections in 2006 will see a significant swing towards the Democrats - mainly because the Republicans will be "on the nose" and many people will simply not vote.

I also suspect that, in the next five years, another conservative movement will start outside the Republican party, splitting conservatives between those who are faithful to the party and those who are faithful to the ideology. Cracks are already appearing in Republican ranks and the fierce loyalty that has typified conservatives will break down completely as people begin to realise the extent of the GOP's inability to govern properly.

The fact is that hypocrisy and promise-breaking over a long period of time will do untold damage to the GOP's public image.

It remains to be seen, however, how much the Democrats will take advantage of this, and how lefties generally will use this coming opening to promote their ideology.


© 2005 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/


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3 comments:

cabearie said...

Neil,

You raise some interesting and accurate points, but there is one thing about current American politics you left out: the growing disenchantment with all politicians.

It is entirely possible that the electorate's cynicism will reach the point by November, 2006 that even more people won't bother to vote. Only the rabid will turn out, and that may very well mean another Republican victory.

Diane

James Spurgeon said...

You know, I love this stuff. Aside from opining that I think some of your opinions are factually incorrect, I just wanted to tell you that I'm glad I've found your blog.

I am a conservative and a Republican and a Texan and a Bush voter (but not a lover of all things Bush). Can I be your friendly antagonist?

I have relatives who are left-over sixties radicals, but I can't talk to them because they get mad. Can I come here and argue with you?

I don't have time today. I'm supposed to be working and I have a deadline, but I promise I'll come back if you promise me we can wrestle (or 'duke it out' as they say) in a way that leaves us both smiling at the end of the day.

Whaddaya say? Can we play later? (smile)

One Salient Oversight said...

James,

I read your blogs every day (that is, when you write stuff) so yeah I'd love to engage in some friendly discourse!

It might be good to read my FAQ so you can see where I'm coming from.